Film Reviews / Indie Film

Loving Vincent review: Dir. Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman (2017)

Modern technology can often feel like an assault on the senses. Smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Instagram, 3D, virtual reality – the list goes on and on. It’s hard to imagine a simpler time, of not having everything to hand, in an instant, as a notification on a screen. Have we lost the art of ‘art’? The simplicity of it. The emotion of it. If Loving Vincent is anything to go by, I don’t think we have, not quite yet.

To be clear, this is not an ‘animation’. It’s live-action, painted. Partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, involving over 100 artists painting each of the film’s 65,000 frames as oils, Loving Vincent is a true labour of love, and it’s best seen and appreciated on the big screen.

Almost everybody knows of van Gogh’s sad tale. Described as ‘the mad genius’, he cut off his ear and gifted it to a girl, killing himself shortly afterwards. But what if that isn’t the whole truth? Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a friend of van Gogh’s, is sent to track down Vincent’s brother Theo to deliver a letter – it’s of no importance, but what happens along the letter’s journey is. After he’s informed that Theo has also passed away, Armand is tasked with finding someone, anyone, who was close to Vincent to give the letter to. Travelling across the countryside, Armand comes across various characters who, during the last few years of his life, were all painted by him, including inn keeper Adeline (Eleanor Tomlinson), Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan), and her father – and Vincent’s psychiatrist – Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn). As conflicting stories swirl around who Vincent was as a person, an artist, and a patient, it’s up to Armand to deduce the truth from the gossip. And did he really take his own life, or was someone else involved?

From the outset, it’s clear that Vincent’s distinctive style is perfect for film. Every frame is its own individual painting, and it’s so intriguing and engaging to witness. While modern animation strives to bring the characters outside of the screen, into the room with you, the style of paint-on-frame gives the film a sense of depth – almost, you want to step into the screen, into each scene, into the bars and inns and homes we see. With every ‘real’ movement of the camera, the lighting changes, and this is reflected in the brush strokes and colours used. Even the rain looks realistic – cold, grey, uninviting. But view the wet countryside of Vincent’s later life from the warmth of Adeline’s inn, and it feels like you want to be there alongside Armand, drinking and investigating.

While the performances of the cast are something to celebrate – Tomlinson’s warm laugh and Helen McCrory‘s angry housekeeper (inspired by van Gogh’s Girl in White) are both brilliant – the true star of the show is the technique, the time taken to create something so beautiful and emotive, that enables you to appreciate van Gogh’s work within the 21st century world.

Part-biography, part-true drama, Loving Vincent is also being sold as a crime feature. Granted, details do emerge that there’s the possibility that Vincent was murdered, but it’s so much more than that. The skill and passion that’s gone into every single frame shines out through the screen; it’s more than a crime drama, it’s a work of art.

Loving Vincent opens in the UK on 13th October 2017

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